Focus like a Cougar to Finish Your Book

Writing a book is an in­tense, chal­len­ging and re­ward­ing pro­cess. But if you’re work­ing on a big pro­ject and the dead­line is loom­ing, the in­tense and chal­len­ging as­pect can be overwhelming.

That’s how I felt last fall as I struggled to fin­ish The Cougar: Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous. I had so much fas­cin­at­ing in­form­a­tion! How could I pos­sibly con­dense it into suit­able ma­nu­script length by March 31?

Then I read an art­icle about ac­com­plish­ing goals in the Mayo Clinic news­let­ter. The three main points were:

1. Clarity of fo­cus. The best nev­er lose sight of the goal. The event is circled on the cal­en­dar. As the count­down be­gins, all activ­it­ies are dir­ec­ted to­ward that date.

2. Tunnel vis­ion. This means hav­ing the cour­age not to ac­cept an en­gage­ment or even re­spond to an email that doesn’t ad­vance the goal.

3. Intense com­mit­ment. Distractions must be elim­in­ated. That in­cludes cut­ting back on non­es­sen­tial ob­lig­a­tions. It also means hav­ing the dis­cip­line to walk away from people who are neg­at­ive and un­sup­port­ive.

I prin­ted those guidelines out and put them on my desk where I would see them every day. In or­der to ac­com­plish what I needed to do with­in the time avail­able, I cre­ated monthly, weekly and daily goals. It might sound scary, but it kept me on track!

Taking my com­mit­ment one step fur­ther, I set up my laptop in an up­stairs bed­room. That way I wasn’t dis­trac­ted by Rick, the dog or the ringing of the phone. And I didn’t have ac­cess to the in­ter­net and email un­less I used my PC down­stairs. It’s amaz­ing how much time that saved!

Some de­cisions were dif­fi­cult. I lim­ited get to­geth­ers with friends and, even though Bailey got a walk every day, there weren’t as many of the long, off leash romps on the beach that we both en­joy. Of course, none of this would have been pos­sible without an un­der­stand­ing and sup­port­ive partner.

A cougar focuses on its prey with intense concentration, never shifting its gaze even when circling around or changing position.
A cou­gar fo­cuses on its prey with in­tense con­cen­tra­tion, nev­er shift­ing its gaze even when circ­ling around or chan­ging position.

Cougars are known for their in­tense fo­cus so every day I told my­self to “fo­cus like a cou­gar.” I of­ten asked my­self, “Does this have any­thing to do with cou­gars?” If the an­swer was no, I made a note to deal with it after I sent the ma­nu­script in.

And yes! I made my dead­line, right on March 31. The Cougar will be in stores near the end of Sept.

Will I use the Mayo Clinic guidelines again? You bet! They’re ex­cel­lent strategies for fin­ish­ing a book, art­icle or thes­is. Or whatever else your goal is, be it train­ing for a mara­thon, los­ing ten pounds in two months or be­com­ing a millionaire.





What’s your writing goal for 2012?

Where do you want to go and when do you want to get there?

Most people ask them­selves those ques­tions be­fore head­ing out on a trip. I also ask them when I’m writ­ing a book.

Completing a book re­quires a huge com­mit­ment of time and en­ergy. If I don’t have a map of where I’m go­ing and when I want to ar­rive, the pro­ject can stretch on into in­fin­ity. That’s scary.

So I set goals.

It took me a while to fig­ure out what a goal is. I want to write a book and have it pub­lished is not a goal, that’s a dream.

A real goal goes some­thing like this: I want to com­plete a 60,000 word ma­nu­script by August 31, edit and re­vise it by December 31 and send it to a publisher/​agent by January 1. In or­der to ac­com­plish this I will work on my book for two hours every Saturday and Sunday.

Now that’s scary too. But it also gives you a clear idea of what you need to do.

However, sit­ting down at the com­puter know­ing you in­tend to write 60,000 words is enough to give any­one writer’s block. So what I do is break the pro­ject down into smal­ler in­cre­ments, say so many words or chapters each month.

I try to be reas­on­able about what I can ac­com­plish, yet push my­self a bit too. Every month or so, I re­view what I’ve done. To be per­fectly hon­est, I nev­er meet my self-im­posed dead­lines. But they keep me on track and mo­tiv­ate me to try harder.

Most folks lead busy lives and fre­quently have to give some­thing up in or­der to cre­ate writ­ing time and achieve their goals. That might in­volve set­ting the alarm an hour earli­er each morn­ing, hav­ing a writ­ing lunch break or draft­ing your ma­nu­script in the laun­dro­mat while wait­ing for your clothes to spin dry.  Many writers – in­clud­ing me – don’t watch tele­vi­sion and lim­it their email and so­cial me­dia time.

But simply hav­ing a goal isn’t al­ways enough. To be really ef­fect­ive ex­perts say you should write your goal down, make a com­mit­ment by telling it to someone and to also be ac­count­able to someone.

It’s early January, the time of year when many people make res­ol­u­tions and set goals. Have you giv­en any thought to where you want to be in your writ­ing jour­ney by the end of the year?